November 14, 2012 by Charlie Eisenhood in News with 25 comments
Earlier this week, Will Deaver, USA Ultimate’s Managing Director of Competition and Athlete Programs, held a conference call with the captains of Select Flight teams across all divisions to talk about the Triple Crown Tour‘s effects on their teams.
One of those captains sent in this dispatch — anonymously — to Ultiworld. Our last article from a Select Flight team conveyed a similar sentiment. If you are a Select team and have thoughts to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teams who were on the Club Championships bubble this year are probably screwed. Whereas in previous years you could set your own schedule, USAU now mandates that the top Select teams go to one “crossover event” in which they will match up with Elite — but not Pro — Flight teams. Accompanying that, Select teams will only have preferential treatment for acquiring bids over Classic Flight teams at tournaments.
Ostensibly, teams 1-16 are given a set of tournaments and required appearances, filling up the best tournaments playing each other, while Select teams are left to mold their season around one event in which they get to play high level competition, and then are stuck at b-level venues. As a captain of one of these teams, we can look at the three tournaments we played, and can only count on going to one of them.
In addition, our required attendance at the crossover event may completely change our early-season preparation, recruiting, and travel plans. While it may work out that said crossover is in our backyard, teams located on the outer corners of the map may be forced to fly a long distance due to geographical constraints. Coming from someone on a team where the commitment is far less than an elite team, and the majority of our players are college students, that is plainly not right.
So, take teams across the divisions like the Santa Barbara Condors, Boston’s Garuda, San Francisco’s grasSFace, Washington’s Ambiguously Grey, and New York’s Bent. Each of them are now facing some pretty ludicrous restrictions. Condors now won’t be playing Revolver, Garuda probably won’t play city neighbors Ironside, and grasSFace may not play any of Polar Bears, Blackbird, or Mischief. During the course of the season, I expect some these matchups to happen at some point, but as this Triple Crown Tour grows, I foresee a time in which Pro/Select never mix, and also a time in which Elite/Select only mix once a year.
Bent is a great example of how awful this division is. After earning the Northeast a second bid to Nationals, they lost out to both Capitals and Brute Squad and didn’t qualify for the Club Championships. Now, because of the structure of this division, you can take a look at Bent’s season and eliminate six games they played against teams that finished the year in the top eight.
During the call, one of Bent’s captains posed a question to Deaver, asking what the benefit was to her team now that they are in this division. Deaver couldn’t come up with an answer. That is shockingly poor, and I’m sure many, if not most, of the captains of teams who are right on the edge of making Nationals would like someone to tell them why the Select Division is actually going to help them.
USAU CEO Tom Crawford was gracious enough to join in on the call. I haven’t had anything negative to say about Crawford up until this point. However, what I can’t stand is his lack of input for anyone in our position. All he can do is chime in with “how excited everyone is” to be a part of this. He understands nothing of the “average” ultimate player and what this will likely do to them. I understand that my team isn’t great, and we’re not going to be pushing for pre-quarters at Nationals. But that doesn’t mean we should be shunted off to the B-division and treated unequally.
I’m sure that in the future the “Select Flight” will become synonymous with second-rate tournaments. As the Elite/Pro fill out the better venues, Select teams will be playing on uneven, misshaped fields and showing up for the weekends at tournaments with no amenities and little organization. Believe it or not, we like showing up as a low seed trying to play our way up against the better teams and measure where we’re at. If you’re one of the guys who has ever played your way into the Championship Bracket (I think Boston Invite is a good example of this), those opportunities are going to be completely lost.
Oh, and let’s not forget that now the big boys don’t have to pay for Sectionals. That was extremely kind of USAU to ensure that the well-funded (and now financially rewarded) teams don’t have to pay for an extra required weekend of bid money, gas, food, and hotels.
On top of that, because of the new restrictions, I fail to see how any Select Division team, particularly on the Open Side, is going to really jump up and join the party at the Club Championships (granted, Mixed can be chaotic, but they are clearly trying to remove this fluctuation in participants with restrictive rostering/season guidelines). Acquiring a bid via strength is now incredibly difficult. Any team attempting this would not only have to have a great weekend in the crossover event, they would have to navigate a season in which they swept through all of their games against other Select Division teams. Meanwhile, the Elite/Pro teams will be squaring off against each other and accruing their rankings based on a strong schedule.
Example? Compare New York’s PoNY and Chicago’s Natives. PoNY earned a bid for the Northeast despite having a season with almost twice as many losses as wins. Natives, on the other hand, split a season series with another Select Division team (Seattle’s Voodoo) and had a few losses to Chicago’s Machine (whom they now likely won’t play) and Madison Club.
Despite Natives cleaning up the rest of their games against lesser competition they can expect to be playing more of this year, they were 200 points in the rankings behind the 16th placed team. The Pro Division teams, who we’re trying to unseat, are definitely going to be conscious of this. They have zero incentive to play Select teams. Ignoring that many of those teams would not lose to lower division teams, allowing those teams to actually get better is counter-productive to their goals of retaining a spot in the Pro Division.
The entirety of the season will still come down to the game-to-go at Regionals, so if the entire division recognizes the need to keep Select teams down, they’ll have a bigger advantage at the end of the year (not to mention they can now pitch the Triple Crown Tour as the definitive recruiting tool against these lesser teams).
I keep feeling worse and worse about this as it pertains to the sport as a whole. What is happening is pretty clear; the 1300 players that comprise the top two divisions across Men’s/Mixed/Women’s are going to reap all of the rewards that everyone else is paying for.
It’s a shame because I totally understand what the TCT is trying to do, and it’s actually kind of cool. It definitely resembles a European soccer league, where you could sort of say “US Open = FA Cup, the Regular Season = Premier League, and Nationals = Champions League”. On top of that, I definitely understand that USAU needs to have more showcases with the top 16 in order to attract those outside marketing and sponsorship deals.
But again, it just feels like everyone is paying the same amount of money, and only a select group has access to the best the game has to offer based on talent alone, and that’s just a bit counter to what I feel ultimate should be.